Russell, Roy and Loretta

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                                          ROY & LORETTA RUSSELL
                                           God was driving
                                            By Rick MacLean

MIRAMICHI – The pink message slip sitting on my desk Friday morning said simply: Roy Russell. There was a telephone number and a note from the person who took the call saying “great story.” Such slips are not unusual. This telephone call was.

I’ve never met Roy, but over the phone the 74-year-old man from Brown Road told me the story of the final days of his wife, Loretta, 84. When the call ended, I sat at my desk and debated what to do next.

This was a man in shock. He had just lost his wife of 45 years. Telling his story might mean I was taking advantage of him. I called him back a while later, and again that evening after I returned from a quick trip out of town. Hurt, yes. Lost without his Loretta, yes. But he was also eager to tell her story, to let other people know of her, of their life together, of the remarkable events surrounding the final three days of their marriage.

The story began at 11:30 a. m. on Sunday, May 19. Roy and Loretta were driving north, heading home from their winter home, a trailer in Florida. It was a trip they had been making for the past 19 years. They thought they might drive out of the mounting heat by the time they hit the Carolinas, but temperature was still in the 90s. It was probably over 100 in their van, Roy said.

Shortly after crossing into North Carolina, near Lumberton, it happened.

Loretta was driving along interstate 95 at about 55 miles an hour – she always drove, she loved to drive, Roy said – when she had some sort of attack. She had a history of heart problems. She slumped to her right, blocking the steering wheel and preventing Roy, who freely admits he panicked and started crying, from grabbing control of the van. The vehicle veered off the road and smashed through a fence. It careened past a huge concrete culvert, just missed a steel pole and slammed to rest in bushes.

Roy dug out some nitroglycerin pills and put on under Loretta’s tongue. The first words out of her mouth when she came to were, “How many people did I kill?”

A state trooper took one look at the scene and demanded to know who had been driving. He could not believe the van, which ended up with $1,800 in damages, had managed to avoid the culvert and pole.

Roy looked at him and said simply, God was driving. He meant it.

As the van was tearing through the fence Roy said he begged God to let him and his Loretta live so he could just get her home. He didn’t want her to die there, along a stretch of highway in the middle of the Carolinas.

Loretta was examined and a doctor said she could travel, but they were warned if they had to stop anywhere, they should be near a hospital.

He heard the crash

It took four flights and a stop overnight to get home. The elderly couple had to be flown first to nearby Charlotte, then Washington, then Montreal for an overnight stay.

At home last Wednesday, Loretta felt well enough to cook supper. “Pork chops,” said Roy, “we had pork chops.” It was a wonderful meal. Even Loretta said it tasted good.

Shortly after they finished he went to the basement for something. That’s when he heard the crash. He ran back upstairs to find Loretta in a heap on the floor. Her heart had let go. Roy tried desperately to save her, performing CPR. But he knew, knew she was gone. Her eyes weren’t seeing anything, Roy told me on the phone, his voice deepening to a hoarse whisper for the third time in as many minutes.

Still, he said, his voice suddenly clearing again, his prayer had been answered.

I sat in my chair, unable to move, unable to speak.

“I asked Him to let me get my Loretta home,” he said, his voice cracking. He simply wanted to get her home, and he had done that.

Roy is alone now. The couple had no children. He was the youngest in his family and is the only one left. When last I talked to him he didn’t want to stay in their home – “it was immaculate,” a reporter said when she went to pick up three photos from Roy. He was just waiting for their repaired van to arrive. He thought he might spend some time with “her family.” There are just too many memories in their home.

Roy met Loretta just after the Second World War. He landed on D-Day and fought his way along the coast of France and Holland. He saw many awful things, he said, and “I don’t talk about them much.”

He met Loretta shortly after and they married in 1951.

He used to work as a projectionist, going from place to place in the area showing movies. People loved the Elvis movies, he said. And Loretta did all the driving, she loved to drive.

Source: Miramichi Leader – May 28, 1996

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